Wide-Eyed Glimpses of Future New York

07/20/2011 4:00 AM |

In 2040, personal rapid-transit gondolas zip around Brooklyn, Minority Report-style, suspended from elevated subway tracks in Bushwick; trash-picking robots man an underwater recycling plant in Sunset Park; and a series of wetland archipelagos dot the Hudson clear north to Troy. Those are among the most fantastical projects outlined in Glimpses of New York and Amsterdam in 2040 , an urbanists’ dream factory offering visions of the historically and geographically linked cities 29 years from now at the Center for Architecture (through September 10). Ten emerging architecture, landscape architecture and urban design firms paired off into five themes—breathing, eating, making, moving and dwelling—focusing on specific districts or functions of their respective cities. Each project is represented in the gallery by one iconic large-scale rendering and several smaller panels explaining its finer points with supplemental images and text. One description reads like a letter from a time traveler, another like a manifesto from futuristic farmers, while another quotes Ayn Rand; but most stick to diplomatic architecture-speak speckled with hybrid terms like “mobility footprint,” “islands of similarity” and “landscape supermarket.” Some are as focused as dlandstudio‘s plan for a hybrid, canal-based transit hub in Long Island City, while others, like Van Bergen Kolpa Architecten‘s scheme to funnel farmland towards central Amsterdam with a series of “green wedges,” would transform the whole city. “Every day we see glimpses of what the city will be in ten years,” said co-curator Luc Vroliks during a preview. “This is an opportunity to see further into the future.”

Several teams embrace sci-fi futurism, others imagine less far-fetched improvements, but many share common ideas despite differences of scale and complexity. Harnessing and transforming both cities’ immense water systems proves a popular tactic, from W Architecture and Landscape Architecture‘s plan for a string of new wetlands along the Hudson to Delva Landscape Architects and Dingeman Deijs Architect‘s proposal to turn Amsterdam’s IJ river into a sophisticated energy-generating and water-filtering system. Ever-popular urban farming forms the centerpiece of WORK AC‘s “Infoodstructure Brooklyn” project for Bushwick and Bed-Stuy and Van Bergen Kolpa Architecten‘s aforementioned “Amsterdam Homemade.” Even the personal transportation pods, which are already in use at Abu Dhabi’s zero-emissions urban experiment Masdar City, make another appearance in .FABRIC‘s plan for Amsterdam’s South Axis.

The most encouraging proposals engage existing structures and neighborhoods rather than imagining utopian colonies, like Barcode Architects‘ Corbusian Valley of the Valleys research center at Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport or improbable environmental interventions like the Hudson “Dredgescape.” WORK AC’s plan to turn Brooklyn’s post-oil streets into long North-South urban farms for areas underserved by grocery stores and greenmarkets holds tremendous appeal, even if accompanying underground fish farm networks seem less likely. In Amsterdam firm space&matter‘s proposal for social networking-inspired communal apartment buildings, small clusters of inhabitants with similar interests form a heterogeneous housing quilt. And Interboro Partners‘ vision for Newark’s troubled downtown valorizes the area’s several unfinished urban visions from past centuries while making tactical but comparatively modest new interventions: enhanced transit, more housing and, most radically, reincorporating wealthy suburbs to bolster the city’s tax base and land values. That’s much less exciting than personal transportation pods and garbagebots, but it’s a glimpse of a more sensible and human-scaled future.

(Image courtesy W Architecture and Landscape Architecture)